One senior member at BBC News said Kamal was an ally and a voice who spoke up for underserved audiences. File/AP
BBC staff members have criticised the organisation for continuing to break its own diversity rules one month after it sacked its top board member of colour, The Independent can reveal.
This comes as the broadcaster culled its news board while imposing cuts and job losses in the division and an £80m savings plan. Several posts including that of editorial director, held by Kamal Ahmed, were closed.
This has left an exclusively white board, with the two vacancies on the now eight-person board temporarily filled by white people.
In 2019, the corporation established a policy that all senior leadership groups should have at least two staff members from black and minority ethnic backgrounds which means the current status is at odds with the BBC’s own diversity guidelines.
As such, concerned employees have described the breach as an indication that the BBC pays “lip service to diversity”.
Editorial Director of the BBC and author Kamal Ahmed poses for a photograph. Photo: Wikipedia
Journalists, ranging from junior to senior roles within the corporation, have shared their concerns with The Independent under the condition of anonymity.
“I’ve heard some people at the BBC saying this is ‘a bad look,’ which says it all. This is very, very bad for the future of BBC News. Kamal was an ally and a voice who spoke up for underserved audiences and underrepresented minorities at a senior level in BBC News,” one senior member at BBC News said.
“He was often frequently the only senior ally in the room at editorial meetings. He championed and empowered younger journalists. Not only does this send a worrying message about the future direction of BBC News but it shows that we aren’t learning from our very big mistakes of the past,” they said.
Of the recently appointed director-general, they added, “Tim Davie says he wants a BBC that represents all audiences – by pushing out the only non-white member of the news board, we have fallen at the first hurdle.
At the time of the restructure, a BBC spokesperson said that “the final membership of the BBC News board has not been announced. Two out of the eight posts – a quarter – are currently vacant.”
'Kamal Ahmed, editorial director, was often frequently the only senior ally in the room at editorial meetings. He championed and empowered younger journalists'
A senior staff member of BBC
However, the broadcaster’s handling of the initial announcement has struck staff members as “tone deaf” and its journalists remain concerned that any non-white members appointed to the news board will now be made to feel like token hires.
“The problem here is they’ve yet again shown how tone deaf they are at that level,” one employee said. “And some people are asking why Fran [Unsworth, director of BBC News] didn’t wait to fill the entire board before making this announcement.”
It is not yet known when the permanent replacements to the board will be announced.
“Now what they’re basically saying in all of their responses: ‘Don’t worry what we’re going to do now is hire two token people of colour’. As if it’s diversity by number.”
The news board, like all senior leadership teams across the BBC, also has two additional advisers who attend monthly meetings – currently Newsbeat editor Debbie Ramsey and BBC Africa journalist Joice Etutu. However that, staff say, is not enough.
BBC heads want people who think like them, look like them.
“The BBC is happy to have brown people at the table but not at any position of influence in terms of editorial output. Let’s not forget that it’s our journalism where we’re getting the most criticism when it comes to decisions – for example, the n-word scandal and others,” one experienced journalist added.
In August, the BBC was forced to apologise after the n-word was read out in full during a news broadcast about a racially motivated attack.
“The BBC doesn’t give a s**t about diversity, inclusion and development. Staff don’t have faith in their plans to lead us into the future given that they don’t represent wider society,” the experienced staff member added. “I don’t have any loyalty to the BBC whatsoever; this is an institutionally racist organisation.”
The Independent has heard that staff members are leaving the corporation in worrying numbers and spoke to some who are actively considering prospects elsewhere.
“It’s a really disheartening, scary time. It has been since the Naga Munchetty row and the talent are leaving at an alarming rate,” another staff member said. “There are two or three more things I want to achieve, then I will go. I can’t stay in an organisation that’s becoming increasingly embarrassing to defend.”
'The BBC doesn’t give a s**t about diversity, inclusion and development. Staff don’t have faith in their plans. This is an institutionally racist organisation'
An experienced journalist at the BBC
BBC Breakfast presenter Munchetty was found in 2019 to have breached BBC guidelines after suggesting Donald Trump’s comment that female ethnic minority politicians from the so-called Squad should “go back” to the “places from which they came” was racist.
Another BBC staff member said: “It’s a complete farce the idea that they’re going to modernise when actually they’ve got people very content with things staying as they are. The culture seems really alienating at the moment and how easily this decision was made without any consultation.
“BBC heads want people who think like them, look like them, people who agree and how is that modernity? The top roles that actually have that influence are now occupied by white, posh people who aren’t in touch with staff let alone wider society.”
The BBC said last month’s board restructure was part of “plans to modernise BBC News” and the slimmed-down cohort remains headed by Ms Unsworth.
In an internal email sent to staff on Monday, and seen by The Independent, she wrote: “Diversity and inclusion are a priority – for the news board and for everyone. (...) As you’ll see, we have interim cover in place for the HR Director and International roles. Recruitment is progressing to find a permanent candidate for both positions.”A BBC spokesperson told The Independent on Saturday: “The BBC recently outlined proposals to build a truly inclusive culture where all staff see themselves represented, feel they can do their best work, meet their career aspirations, and thrive. We’ve made considerable progress in this area, but recognise there is more to do’.”
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